Compassion fatigue

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Compassion Fatigue:

Compassion Fatigue:When Helpers Get Tired of HelpingCourtney AllisonSoutheast Regional Coordinator

Good afternoon and thank you for attending todays session, Compassion Fatigue: When Helpers Get Tired of Helping. Before we begin, I want to give a short disclaimer. I am a librarian, not a psychologist and I will be approaching todays presentation as a librarian who has conducted research on the topic so you should not consider me as a mental health professional.

We are going to start todays presentation with a bit of word association. Im going to say a word and I want you focus on an image that you associate with it.


This time I want you to think about the word *work*2

Finally we will be thinking about the word *post traumatic stress*3

You may be surprised to think library staff may be capable of being at risk to traumatic stress, but compassion fatigue is the post traumatic stress disorder related symptoms that you receive vicariously as a secondary target to trauma and it is experienced by those in a helping profession.

Health care workers, police officer, caregivers and if your role is that of a helping profession, may be effected by compassion fatigue as well.


AgendaUnderstand Compassion FatigueRecognize, Cope, OvercomeCultivate a Culture of Care and CompassionCurrently research on sources of stress within libraries in Indiana

Todays session will be divided into 4 sections.

First I will cover what compassion fatigue is and how it differs from occupational burnout.

I will then cover common symptoms and methods to cope with secondary traumatic stress and tips on how to overcome it.

After todays session you will walk away with a working definition of compassion fatigue, an understanding of the symptoms and an awareness of ways to ameliorate the symptoms.


What is Compassion Fatigue?A state experienced by those helping people in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.

For the sake of this presentation, we will be defining Compassion fatigue as stress thats stems from exposure to other people in traumatic or difficult situations. It can go by many other names such as secondary traumatic stress or secondary victimization.

For some it may be difficult to understand how librarians may share the same stressors as those in law enforcement or the healthcare industry but thinking back on our own experiences in public service Im sure we all have stories of trying times when we were exposed to such traumatic stressors.

(Give an example)

Because public service staff are trained and expected to practice compassion and empathy to build a connection with patrons, they can be particularly vulnerable to the emotional stress or secondary trauma that results in compassion fatigue.

Examples:A patron come to you frantically requesting assistance finding resources that will help pay for prescription medication that can be the difference between life and death

A patron needs assistance finding legal aid to help prevent their family from being evicted, or having their home foreclosed

A patrons odor and physical appearance is disruptive to the environment but you know that their home has had the utilities shot off and your library is the only public space with a bathroom where they can stay warm during the winter


What is Occupational BurnoutA type of psychological stress that is characterized by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm, and motivation, feelings of ineffectiveness, and as a result reduced efficacy within the workplace

For many years compassion fatigue was confused for burnout. Unlike burnout, compassion fatigue is highly treatable and may be less predictable. The onset of compassion fatigue can be sudden, whereas burnout usually emerges over time. Additionally, severe cases of burnout sometimes require the person experiencing it to change jobs or occupations, but often measures can be taken to prevent or treat compassion fatigue before a change in work environment is required.

Occupational burnout is typically and particularly found within human service professions. Professions with high levels of burnout include social workers, nurses, teachers, lawyers, engineers, medical practitioners, and customer service professionals.

Burnout often stems from your job. Anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnoutfrom the hardworking library director who hasnt had a vacation in years, to the frazzled circulation assistant who is struggling to care for their kids, housework, aging parent and work a full-time job.

Your lifestyle and personality traits can also contribute to burnout. What you do in your downtime and how you look at the world can play just as big of a role in causing burnout as work or home demands.

Untreated compassion fatigue can contribute to burnout.


Recognizing Compassion FatigueBottled up EmotionsIrritabilityDepressionChronic Physical AilmentsDifficulty focusing or concentratingAvoiding work / calling in sick / coming in late

Compassion Fatigue symptoms are normal displays of stress resulting from the work you perform on a regular basis. While the symptoms are often disruptive, depressive, and irritating, an awareness of the symptoms and their negative effect on your life can lead to positive change, personal transformation, and a new resiliency. Reaching a point where you have control over your own life choices will take time and hard work. There is no magic involved. There is only a commitment to make your life the best it can be.

Something that can make compassion fatigue more easily distinguished from general stress is an overarching loss of faith in the character of your patrons. If you begin to assume the worst about your patrons continuously before interacting with them or notice a shift where you are judging them more harshly then usual, you may be experiencing compassion fatigue.

When Compassion Fatigue hits critical mass in the workplace, the organization itself suffers. Chronic absenteeism, high turnover rates, friction between employees, and friction between staff and management are among organizational symptoms that surface, creating additional stress on workers. In addition, you may see staff less eager to assist patrons or willing to engage in innovation or change within your organization.


What are some things that you have encountered that can trigger compassion fatigue at work?


Taking care of myself doesnt mean, me first. It means, me too.L.R. Knost

Once you accept that you are a candidate for compassion fatigue, or are already suffering its effects, the key to overcoming and preventing compassion fatigue is taking personal responsibility for yourself and recognizing your own limitations. You need to take care of yourself before effectively taking care of someone else. Remember, what are you told to do on an airplane in the event of cabin pressure loss? You must put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.

A common and understandable coping mechanism in care giving is to simply stuff the overwhelming emotions that surface repeatedly in your work. How else can you keep going? Eventually, those emotions refuse to be ignored. All too often, psychological and physical crisis occurs.

With support, insightful information, and authentic self-care, you can begin to understand the complexity of the emotions youve been juggling and, most likely, suppressing. Most people never take the time to understand how their jobs affect them emotionally. Give yourself credit for moving forward and affecting change. Your hard work will pay off.


Wheel of Human Needs

We all have basic human needs and if they are not met it makes it difficult to maintain happiness and contentment within your life. The wheel of fundamental human needs can serve as a guide to evaluate your own life to determine what if any essential needs are currently being unmet in your life and what if any areas you need to invest more time and energy to develop.

The important thing to remember is that no one else can meet these needs, its a personal burden or responsibility to seek and achieve the fulfillment of these needs.

This can be a really useful personal assessment tool to get in touch with your emotions. A basic way to implement this into your own professional or personal life is to sit down with a copy of the wheel and evaluate where, if anywhere you need to invest more energy to fulfill any deficiencies.

Once you have a better understanding of what your needs are you can then try to develop a personal plan on how youre going to fill these deficiencies, for example if you are lacking in Autonomy in your personal like, perhaps you have children, care for elderly parents, etc. you can make an effort to grant yourself at least 30 minutes a day to walk alone outside and focus on your own thoughts.

If you find that any of your unmet needs correlate to work, be sure to communicate your limitations and needs to your supervisor, if it is something that they may be able to accommodate.

This can be something as basic as recognizing that after especially trying patron interactions, you need 5 minutes to re-center yourself otherwise your service and emotional health will suffer. Of course organizational staffing does not always allow us to take breaks when we need them most, but it will allow your supervisor to gain a better understanding of what your limits are and how to read your emotional sig